The recent spate of negative incidents involving the RCMP has been well documented in the media.
This has led to public concern about the operations of the RCMP across British Columbia.
As the province moves closer to ratifying a contract with the RCMP, many municipalities have expressed concern about RCMP fiscal accountability and more importantly, local community accountability.
Many politicians, including myself, see a regional police force as the best alternative to the ongoing challenge of contracting a federally structured police force.
However, until all municipalities in the region are willing to agree on developing a regional force, it will not happen.
The good news for Richmond is that over recent years, our detachment has responded to our call for greater accountability to city needs.
Under Superintendent Rendall Nesset's leadership, the Richmond RCMP are paying attention to our community concerns by the following actions:
? Monthly reporting of crime statistics, trends and operations to the city's Community Safety Committee.
? Community engagement workshops with residents, community groups and business groups to get feedback on their concerns.
? Preparation of an Annual Performance Plan that reflects Richmond community priorities. For 2012-2013, youth, property crime, pedestrian safety and establishing and developing a police presence in the downtown core are the community priorities for this year.
The city has matched these improvements over the past few years by funding new positions in key areas, as well as, purchasing and renovating the RCMP's new Richmond detachment headquarters, which they moved into last fall.
Later this year, the new City Centre Police Office at Lansdowne and No. 3 roads will be opened to ensure we maintain an appropriate level of police presence within our city core.
I believe the local improvement in accountability and service is reflected in the Richmond crime statistics which have been consistently trending downward and are among the lowest in the region.
It is our hope the new RCMP contract will continue the trend toward local accountability that we've seen over the past few years here in Richmond and across the province, ensuring council and our community have more input in key decisions around staffing, long-term planning and service priorities.
Affordability and cost containment will be major issues going forward. Policing is one of the major cost centres for the city.
About 20 cents of every dollar of taxes you pay to the city goes to policing, yet we have little control over how those dollars are spent.
Ottawa fixes most of the costs for RCMP services and passes it on to the municipality.
These costs routinely exceed the rate of inflation, which puts upward pressure on our budget and property taxes.
We need to work together to ensure we find the proper balance of containing costs, while ensuring the safety of our community is not compromised.
We still have a long way to go but we are making progress.
Ken Johnston is a Richmond city councillor.